Report: Satellite NCCU campus broke rules

CULLOWHEE — N.C. Central University leaders who created and oversaw an unauthorized satellite campus at a suburban Atlanta megachurch gave students an improper tuition break, ignored several of policies and kept poor and incomplete records, according to a critical new report issued Thursday by the UNC system.

The report, discussed Thursday afternoon at a meeting of the audit committee of the UNC system’s Board of Governors, is the result of two months of scrambling following the revelation that a series of academic programs NCCU was administering at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., had never been properly approved.

The agency that accredits NCCU never knew about it. That may mean federal financial aid NCCU gave to many of the 126 students who enrolled in the program over its four-year life will have to be sent back to the Department of Education. It isn’t clear yet whether NCCU will have to pay some or all of that money back; New Birth students received more than $3 million in Pell Grants, Perkins loans and other financial aid, according to the report.

The report reveals that students in the New Birth program paid less tuition than is mandated by the UNC system. For example, the university charged New Birth students $296.10 per credit hour in 2007-08; the UNC system’s proper rate for a non-resident distance education credit hour is $417.75. The total lost revenue from those tuition payments isn’t specified in the report.

“While we missed out on some revenue, the bigger issue is that we didn’t follow the established procedures,” Chancellor Charlie Nelms said Thursday after briefing the audit committee, which met at Western Carolina University.

The New Birth campus should have been vetted by campus and UNC system boards and NCCU’s accrediting agency and the Department of Education should have been notified of its creation, according to the report. Those regulatory steps “ were ignored or circumvented,” it said.